Members of the prosecution and defense, including defendant John Stapleton, sit during a trial for a 2018 killing on Jan. 13, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Members of the prosecution and defense, including defendant John Stapleton, sit during a trial for a 2018 killing on Jan. 13, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Deliberation continues in 2018 Yakutat killing trial

The jury of one’s peers is deliberating the defendant’s guilt.

Jury deliberation continued into Wednesday evening in the trial for a man accused of killing another man in Yakutat in 2018.

Earlier in the day, lawyers presented closing statements before the jury retired to deliberate.

The defendant, John Lee Stapleton, 50, is being tried in the killing of John Fergerson, 61. Stapleton is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. He faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted. The minimum sentence for first-degree murder is 30 years imprisonment, under Alaska statute.

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“Three choices that took Fergerson away from his family, his wife, his grandkids: the person who made those choices is the defendant,” said District Attorney Angie Kemp in her closing statement.

The defense, led by public defender Eric Hedland, questioned Stapleton’s ability to make decisions at that time of the incident. Hedland also brought up one of the prosecution’s initial theories that the stabbing could have been brought on by jealousy over a comment Fergerson made, which the prosecution had seemingly found no evidence for, Hedland said.

“The state said he made three deliberate choices,” Hedland said. “Not one, not two, but three deliberate choices. That he was not drunk, but he knew what he was doing.”

The three-week trial has seen a wide variety of witnesses, beginning with other guests and hosts involved in Fergerson and Stapleton’s trip to Yakutat, a trip that was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime for Fergerson, Kemp said.

Other witnesses included police officers who responded to what sounded like a medical call, but discovered the stab wounds in Fergerson’s chest.

Investigators from the Alaska Bureau of Investigation also testified about their investigation, arriving in Yakutat hours after the incident and interviewing Stapleton and Tracy Sitherwood. Other witnesses included experts from the Alaska Medical Examiner’s Office and the Alaska State Crime Lab, who talked about the cause of death and the knife that caused it.

Finally, Stapleton himself testified on Tuesday.

“I’m 50. I’m at the end of my life. I don’t want them to take up drinking or be angry,” Stapleton said of Fergerson’s family as he testified Tuesday. “I want Elaine to be proud of her husband and know that he didn’t die from some weird petty jealousy. I don’t know why they’re saying that I even did it.”

The jury will continue deliberations until they return a verdict.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or

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